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Facebook and Colleges, Part 47: New “Community Pages” Are Talking About You…

April 28, 2010

…and anyone can easily listen, no social media dashboard required.

[Note: I update this blog infrequently, but you can follow me on Twitter @robinteractive]

(This post talks about colleges, but is equally relevant to a range of businesses and organizations.)

Search for just about any college on Facebook and you’ll find at least one officially-created page or group. The debate from a few years ago about whether or not colleges should be on Facebook has largely subsided. (Do colleges use Facebook effectively? That’s definitely still up for debate.)

Back then, a common argument of those advocating creation of (or creating without permission) an official Facebook presence was, “If we don’t build it, someone else will, and we won’t have any control.” Others at the time, and still now, wince at the word control in relation to social media.

My view on control and social media? There is a difference between having control and your audience feeling like you are trying to control them. And while you can’t have total control, you can definitely have some control. Quite a bit of control in many instances.

The official college Facebook presence, promoted on Web sites, in e-mails, etc., often has a sizable following. This following can be utilized for posting news snippets, campus events, etc., via manual posting, RSS posting tools, or using syndication tools such as Hootsuite, ping.fm, etc. Use the college’s Facebook presence as a marketing channel and engage the community for benefits X, Y and Z. Etc.

But what if someone creates a new Facebook Page for your institution? And what if, instead of you feeding content for that page and, if necessary, removing content posted by others, you had little control?

What if that new Facebook Page for your institution automatically aggregates content based on what people are saying all around Facebook, even if those Facebook users don’t intend to post their status updates to that Page? What if that Page has potential to become extremely popular, even a go-to reference?

That Page exists, and it is part of Facebook’s new Community Page beta. Some have described it as a Wikipedia competitor. From Facebook:

“Community Pages are a new type of Facebook Page dedicated to a topic or experience that is owned collectively by the community connected to it. Just like official Pages for businesses, organizations and public figures, Community Pages let you connect with others who share similar interests and experiences.

On each Community Page, you’ll be able to learn more about a topic or an experience—whether it’s cooking or learning a new language—and see what your friends and others in the Facebook community are saying about this topic. Community Pages are still in beta, but our long-term goal is to make them the best collection of shared knowledge on a topic. We’re starting by showing Wikipedia information, but we’re also looking for people who are passionate about any of these topics to sign up to contribute to the Page. We’ll let you know when we’re ready for your help.” (Facebook blog)

(Update April 29: I finally saw as an in-your-face pop-over the suggested pages to add in my own Facebook account. This was mentioned in the Facebook blog post linked above.  Suggested pages for me included pretty much everything in my Facebook profile  info tab, including Facebook Community Pages for my high school and my college. Facebook is proactively driving people to “like” these community pages.)

Here’s a Facebook Community Page in action. Note that it pulls content from any mentions (status updates only?) of the college on Facebook:

Brown Facebook Community Page

In case you can’t read that top post, “Not bad get drunk and get paid. Brown University is seeking adult drinkers who are interested in reducing or stopping drinking for a research study.”

While the research may be worthwhile, having a prospective student, or a parent of a prospective student, see that at the top of the list is probably less exciting to Brown. Who says researchers toil in obscurity?

These pages seem to already exist for most colleges, as a Facebook search will quickly show. For convenience, here are a few examples:

Time will tell if Facebook Community Pages catch on. My guess is they will, given how they have good potential for viral growth in fans/people who “like” them and Facebook’s ability and motivation to sell ads against them. At this point they are only a week old, and a quick Facebook search shows they are already attracting fans.

Note that these pages are visible without logging in to Facebook. Real-time Twitter info has made it into search results for Google, Bing, etc. The possibility exists that Facebook status updates might go down the same path.

What can you do re: Facebook Community Pages?

  • At the time this post is being written, Facebook Community Pages are only a week old and are still in beta, so keep an eye on how these pages develop and expand over time.
  • Sign up to be a contributor to your college’s Facebook Community Page, and when the Page gets turned over to the community (whatever that will end up meaning and whenever that will happen), you might receive some level of control.
  • Be aware that there is often more than one Community Page for any given organization. So far my college has two. I’ve found other colleges with four or five already. I wonder if Facebook will rectify that in the future.
  • Add this page to your reputation monitoring efforts.
  • Note how the page functions. Using the example above, if a number of people post status updates on Facebook related to Brown University, the content scrolls down and off the page. If the college president comes knocking upset about a particular item, this can be a method that yields quick results. Have your plan in place, and get a list of people to post something about your college.
  • Also note that posts made on your college’s official Facebook page show up on your college’s Community Page

(Edit April 29: If your curious what information on your Facebook profile is public, use this Facebook API browser lookup tool.)

(Edit May 14: Facebook search options, as mentioned above, are arriving. See Kurrently (Facebook and Twitter searches) and openbook (Facebook search) for two examples.)

E-mail + Social Media Convergence: Intentional and Unintentional Marketing

March 31, 2010

In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes. – Banksy (British artist)

[Note: I update this blog infrequently, but you can follow me on Twitter @robinteractive]

There’s a lot of talk about “e-mail + social media” in the e-mail marketing and social media blogosphere. Typically this relates to intentional efforts.

Intentional E-mail + Social Media Convergence = Intentional Marketing

Sometimes e-mail + social media convergence is intentional. For example, e-mail service providers (ESPs) are increasingly adding social sharing tools (think ShareThis and AddThis) within e-mail, and some e-mail marketers are developing this functionality on their own. (How? Relatively simple. ShareThis image in the e-mail message links to Web page copy of the e-mail including a functional ShareThis button. Why not in the e-mail itself? These buttons typically work using javascript, and e-mail does not support javascript.) Social sharing tools within e-mail achieve measurable results, according to this Silverpop study.

Additionally, links within marketing e-mails to a brand’s presence on Twitter and Facebook are becoming commonplace. Same is true with social network links in signatures of individuals.

If you already have an active social media presence, these low-effort approaches accomplish the following:

  • Allow recipients to easily share your message with their social networks
  • Highlight other ways your recipients can receive information from you and communicate with you
  • Drive traffic to your social media efforts, building followers/fans/etc., to allow further communication and brand-building

Note this example from Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert e-newsletter:

rapportive

The left half of the image appears near the top right of his e-newsletter. Links for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. In the screenshot the ShareThis link is static and only shows the ShareThis icon, but “live” it is an animated gif that also shows Digg, Delicious, AIM, e-mail and MySpace. Very well done, and I’d expect no less from Jay Baer. (Check out Jay Baer’s Convince and Convert blog. You won’t regret it.)

Unintentional E-mail + Social Media Convergence = Unintentional Marketing

What if you could use your e-mail client to easily peer into the social media presence of those sending you e-mail? What if your recipients could do the same?

Consider this: many people use the same e-mail account for social media account creation (and related messages, such as Facebook friend request notifications) as they use for opting in to permission based e-mail. This was true for 63% of respondents to a study conducted by Merkle.

Take a look at the right side of the image shown above. This info was generated by Rapportive, a social CRM tool that runs as a browser extension (Firefox and Chrome-only at the time of this post, though they offer a bookmarklet for Safari) for Gmail users. The info it shows is based on the “from:” address of the e-mail. In this case the info is from the public LinkedIn profile associated with the sending from: address. (By the way, in the case of Jay Baer’s e-newsletter this is a different LinkedIn profile than the one officially promoted within the e-mail.)

With Rapportive installed, hover over any hyperlinked e-mail address in an e-mail and the right sidebar will bring up related social network info for that specific e-mail address. Often this includes a picture of the person sending you a message, as opposed to the logo in the example above, as well as info from and links to that person’s accounts on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Bebo, Friendster and possibly others. Rapportive is a fairly new start-up. Their data isn’t 100% accurate (for example, the MySpace account that is shown for eBay alerts reveals that eBay is divorced, and also a Capricorn), but Rapportive is working on improving this.

Rapportive isn’t the only company integrating social CRM with e-mail. etacts also works with Gmail and provides links to a similar range of social network accounts. SenderOK currently has a narrower focus in terms of social network conection, connecting only social network profile images with various flavors of e-mail clients. (Both etacts and SenderOK offer other features related to e-mail management.)

Outlook user? The Xobni Outlook add-in has been offering this functionality for a while. Here is a screen shot of an e-mail from a friend of mine. Much like Rapportive and econtacts, Xobni pulled the social network info shown based on the from: e-mail address, not by any explicit info or permission given to me or Xobni by my friend:

xobni

Browser extensions, Outlook add-ins… Not exactly mainstream. But consider this: Microsoft has announced that Outlook 2010 will be more social out-of-the-box with the ability to keep up with your Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and likely other social media accounts from within Outlook.  What it will show for a message from any given sender depends on what social network accounts were created with that e-mail address and the privacy settings that user has in place on those social networks. The default privacy settings on social networks lean toward being open.

All of these examples illustrate one-at-a-time social network lookups based on e-mail address. If you want to batch-process a high volume of contacts from a database, Flowtown has you covered. In FlowTown’s own words: “When all you have is an email address, Flowtown can give you a name, age, gender, occupation, location and all the social networks that person is on.” Quite a few networks, too, including the usuals (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn…) and the  surprising (newspapers such as L.A. Times and Washington Post, Amazon, Match.com…)

E-mail + social media convergence is happening in other ways. You can import contacts from Facebook to Yahoo! Mail and even make Facebook Status updates within Yahoo! Mail. Microsoft’s MSN home page redesign earlier this month focused on Facebook and Twitter, and time will tell if they move Hotmail in the same direction as Outlook in terms of social connector integration. Mozilla Labs (Mozilla, as in the Firefox creator) is working on a contacts-in-the-browser integration which can pull contact data from various sources (so far Twitter, Gmail and Apple’s Address Book). The march toward e-mail + social integration is well underway, and in many directions.

Implications for E-mail Marketing (and Personal Privacy)

It is clear that when we send an e-mail, we are sending more information than we realize. To return to the Bansky quote that started this post, “In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.”

For individuals, outbound messages: This may mean that an e-mail to your boss shows a Facebook profile picture where you had a bit too much fun at that conference in Vegas, tweets you are making in the middle of the workday in which you complain about colleagues, and a LinkedIn profile where you’ve padded your accomplishments and/or indicate you are job searching. And that MySpace account you forgot about? Still there in full glory, not forgotten by these tools. This sort of info isn’t just being revealed to your boss and coworkers. Prospective clients, family members, friends, pastors, etc., will also soon have these links at their fingertips.

For individuals, inbound messages: If you are in sales, customer service, etc., social CRM tools can give you further insights into those sending you messages, information which may be useful in developing rapport, improving service, and closing the deal. Beware: you might also find out your straight-laced coworker turns goth on the weekends.

For e-mail marketers: There is a need to be mindful about what info is associated with various “from:” e-mail addresses used for outbound marketing messages, order confirmations, etc. Is this info less-than-ideal? Is there no info? Could or should efforts be made to intentionally link these addresses with social networks? And for those interested in database-driven marketing, what sort of insights can be gleaned from using database-appending tools such as Flowtown, and how can you use that information to send relevant marketing messages? (Related: Being online: Your identity to advertisers–it’s not all about you.)

Update 2010-05-19: Gist, the folks who have brought us e-mail inbox management tools for a few years have some pretty wide-reaching tools for searching out social network info and beyond for people. Gist’s Web-based tool acts as a monitoring dashboard to keep you up-to-date on the online activities of your contacts (social media, blogs, news, and beyond). You can import your contacts from e-mail and social network accounts, and also via .csv like Flowtown. A significant difference from other tools is that you can log in and see recent activity for these contacts, including blog and news activity search spiders have crawled and identified. It has a range of robust tools beyond this, as well.

Gist has also launched the Gist gadget for Google Apps which brings social network identification via e-mail address to the Google Apps suite. Tools such as Rapportive and Xobni (mentioned above) are an install on individual machines. Gist installing at the Google Apps admin level, though, brings this functionality to an entire company. It even searches out blogs and news for info about that person, and provides info about that persons company. (Hat tip to a @SpencerKollas tweet re: Gist for Google Apps.)

Your thoughts?

Is Google Poisoning Your E-mail Marketing?

February 24, 2010

Is Google Poisoning Your E-mail Marketing?

[Note: I update this blog infrequently, but you can follow me on Twitter @robinteractive]

[Update at bottom on 2011-01-28 re: Facebook Messages and https.]

Joe Gmailuser opens an e-mail from his Aunt Sadie Khattlaidee. All is well. An e-mail from his girlfriend Ming Waresmeiring, nothing unusual.

Then he opens a marketing e-mail from your company. He sees this:

Images Not Displayed

Old news to an e-mail marketing pro. Many e-mail clients block images by default. Design accordingly. (Note to novices: If you’re sending tool tracks e-mail opens, then you’re sending an image – a Web beacon – even if your e-mail contains no other images.) Let’s continue…

Joe Gmailuser loves your company, reads every e-mail you send, and is more than willing to enable images. Good old Joe, the ideal customer.

What’s the problem?

Here’s what Joe Gmailuser, also (like most people) an Internet Explorer user, sees when enabling images for your e-mail:

Internet Explorer 8 Warning

(This specific image is from Internet Explorer 8. More on Internet Explorer 6 and 7 later.)

In fact, if Joe has allowed images to always be enabled for messages sent from you, the above box appears the moment he clicks your message in the inbox.

Why? The Web page tried loading both secure and non-secure items.

I use Firefox as my primary browser (I love the add-ons/extensions) and use Chrome as my secondary browser. I honestly ignore the secure/non-secure broken lock at the bottom of Firefox:

Firefox Warning

and the secure/non-secure exclamation triangle warning in the address bar in Chrome:

Chrome Warning

But the Internet Explorer warning dialog box? Downright alarming.

Why Gmail? Since mid-January 2010 https is the default access for Gmail. (https = secure Web connection.) This isn’t (yet?) the norm for other Web based e-mail, but Gmail is not alone in using https.  (Update: I’ve learned that Windows Live @edu is also https, and wonder if the same is true for Microsoft’s corporate Web-based e-mail offering.)

Joe encounters no problems when opening e-mails from Aunt Sadie Khattlaidee, even though they have pictures of her beloved cats attached. And e-mails from his girlfriend Ming Waresmeiring? They typically contain nothing more than links to local jewelry stores, so no warnings of any kind.

But when he views your e-mail with images enabled, those images are hosted on a non-secure server. The images from a non-secure source try loading on the secure-by-default Gmail page. The lock breaks in Firefox, the caution arrow appears in Chrome, both likely unnoticed. But the warning dialog box in Internet Explorer has to be answered to return to the underlying page – it is unavoidable.

Does this impact the end user viewing your message and taking the step(s) you want them to take (read it, take action, etc.)? Does it reflect poorly on your brand, since this problem doesn’t occur when friends and relatives send Joe an e-mail?

Real Life Example – Apple:

Apple is (in)famous in the e-mail marketing world for their image-dependent messages. The argument is sometimes made that Apple can get away with this given the strength of their brand. Still true if the Apple-loving recipient is Joe Gmailuser?

  • Selected yes to this question in Internet Explorer 8: “Do you want to view only the Web page content that was delivered securely? This webpage contains content that will not be delivered using a secure HTTPS connection, which could compromise the security of the entire webpage.”
  • Selected Display images below option.

Even though I chose to display images, the result is still no images, since I opted not to display non-secure content.

Apple E-mail Marketing

Tested in…:

I tested with Internet Explorer 8 on systems running Windows 7 64-bit and Windows XP Service Pack 3 (XPSP3), Internet Explorer 7 on XPSP3 and Internet Explorer 6SP1 (officially unsupported by Google for Gmail) on XPSP1. Testing was done in consumer Gmail and Google Apps for Education.

(When I tested IE8 on Windows 7 64-bit and opted to display only secure content, that decision persisted across every message I opened in Gmail until I restarted the computer. This didn’t happen to me with IE8 XPSP3.)

The warning dialog box in Internet Explorer 6 and 7 is less alarming, but the problem still exists:

Internet Explorer 7 Warning

As Microsoft notes in their blog post about the warning boxes in Internet Explorer 7 vs. 8, “The dialog was changed in IE 8 to encourage users to make the more secure choice by selecting ‘yes’.  Selecting ‘yes’ to the IE 7 dialog resulted in showing both secure and non-secure content.” (see Microsoft blog post)

Possible Solution:

  • Use a secure server to host images embedded in e-mails. I did a very quick (not in any way thorough) test of this in a few Webmail clients without issue. Microsoft points out in the blog post linked above that secure content loading on a non-secure (http) page will not cause this error. So this approach seems like it would solve the Gmail issue and also be be fine even with people viewing e-mail images in Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc., using Internet Explorer. However, it merits further testing.  (Update March 19, 2010: I tested https images in Outlook 2007 on XPSP3 pulling messages from Gmail via POP3, and also in Outlook 2010 Beta pulling messages from Gmail via IMAP. Https images loaded successfully in both. However, there are reports around the Web where people are having problems with https images in Outlook 2007. In some instances the explanation seems to be when a servlet/applet serves the image (the example cited multiple times is a bar code image). In other instances there are questions about whether it is caused by Exchange Server and/or Outlook configurations.)
  • E-mail service providers (ESPs) typically use a non-secure tracking image, sometimes additional footer images, and even placeholder images in the templates they design. Even if you place your image(s) on a secure server, the ESPs images (tracking and otherwise) still betray you by calling an image from a non-secure source.

Takeaways:

  • Gmail and Internet Explorer don’t play nice together.
  • Yet another reason (in addition to rendering issues) to test e-mail marketing across various e-mail clients and various browsers.
  • Check your secure Web pages, as well. You may be a Firefox or Chrome loyalist, and have overlooked that your credit card-accepting page or other secure form is deterring your visitors due to secure/non-secure warnings.
  • If your day-to-day e-mail template (i.e. in Outlook, etc.) includes images hosted on a Web server, you’re likely encountering the same problem.

Update 2011-01-28: The new Facebook Messages (not widely rolled out as of the date of this update) is introducing quite a few wrinkles into e-mail marketing. Related to this specific post, Facebook is rolling out a setting where people can opt to use Facebook via https. The setting is still rolling out to end users, but it is possible to use Facebook https now simply by using the https URL. I tested an e-mail containing images in the new Facebook Messages using https Facebook. When that message is expanded (i.e. displaying the html version instead of the default plain text version), the same warnings as above are displayed.

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